I am writing this in the waiting room of the Eye Institute watching the computer board for my mother’s cataract surgery to be finished. Hospital technology has advanced to the state that you can now track the patient’s journey from pre-op to OR to recovery room, and then a volunteer will come and kindly escort you to your loved one’s bedside. I suppose it saves the nurses time not having to answer all those pesky questions. My mother has a particularly dense cataract which has been interfering with her ability to paint. (Most of the paintings on the website are hers, she is also under The Artist on the main menu). Claude Monet had the same problem in his later years, as his vision loss progressed his colors became more muted. (If you look at this paintings after the surgery the blue green colors are so vibrant). As a painter her eyes are important to her, as painting is her passion, while mine is reading. Both our hobbies are dependent on clear vision. A cataract is easily fixable, but some other eye conditions such as macular degeneration, are not. I hope someday medicine will have progressed to the point where they will be able to implant stem cells into eyes and restore vision. What a miracle that would be for those facing vision loss. You hear a lot of tragic stories in the waiting rooms of eye clinics like these, but these doctors, they are the unsung heroes.
Not being able to read would be the worst nightmare for me. I know there are audio books but I want a book in my hand. I don’t remember ever not being able to read, although I have a vague recollection of taking one of those Dick-Jane-and-Sally-see-Spot-run books to my mother and proudly showing her I could read by myself. The letters made sense, they were words! It was a momentous discovery.
I read vicariously and from an early age. I started school in a rural one room school house, and as there were only three of us in grade one, I listened in while the very frazzled teacher taught the older grades. It seems archaic now but I suppose it isn’t much different than home schooling, all ages together. Our farm was within walking distance of the school but after it closed in grade two (it was archaic even then), my parents drove us into town to the Catholic school until the bus service was started a few years later. One of my earliest recollections is sitting at the dining room table while my mother helped my older siblings with their homework. I would sit and soak it all in. To me learning was fun, a whole new adventure.
I always loved books. My maternal grandmother immigrated from Holland so English was a second language for her. Her verbal English was good, her reading not so much, and I, a precarious four-year-old, would correct her if she strayed too far from the story-line or the ending wasn’t the way it normally was. When the teacher assigned a short story to read in the grade five reader, (a Stephen Leacock tale about Mother’s Day), I took the reader home and read the whole book. I read the usual children’s books, Black Beauty, Heidi, Pippi Longstocking, The Five Little Peppers and How they Grew, a series called the Borrowers which involved tiny people living in a big house, and the rare treat of a Jack and Jill magazine once when I was in the hospital for tonsils, which was full of puzzles and activities. Around age ten I went through a Trixie Belden girl detective phase, (no Nancy Drew for me, it was the sixties, who would wear a twinset even if they did get to drive a convertible). Living on a farm with few playmates, I read for entertainment. It was something to do in the summer, and as I was not good at sports and hated the heat, you could usually find me on a blanket in the shade of a tree reading. As a middle child I was accustomed to being on the periphery, but I could always be found somewhere with my nose in a book. When the library opened my mother would take myself and my younger brother every Saturday (after his hockey game and penny candy treats), and I would stock up on books for the following week. The library was one of the few air conditioned buildings in town and I still remember the blast of cool air that hit you when you entered the vestibule, and the musty smell of books. The librarian would often comment on my choices, because while our little library stocked picture books for kids and adult fiction, the selection for Young Adults, if that genre even existed, was limited…. perhaps only L.M. Montgomery (I read the whole Anne series) and Louisa May Alcott (like many girls Jo was my heroine). And so I read the classics, Dickens, the Brontes, my mother’s copy of Gone With the Wind, what ever I could get my hands on. Occasionally, when I would come across a Young Adult book, I would find it fascinating reading about teens my own age. Several of those books stand out clearly in my mind, although I can’t recall the titles, one in particular about a young girl going to work at a summer resort. I’m picturing bonfires on the beach right now. If you lived an isolated life without a driver’s license, those literary ventures into a normal teenage world (parties, boys, jobs), can seem memorable. Once I was in high school I discovered Seventeen magazine (50 cents an issue), and it became my fashion bible, and then later Mademoiselle and Glamour. Although I read it for the clothes, magazines used to publish short stories back then and I read my mother’s Good Housekeeping and Redbook magazines for that reason as well as her condensed Reader’s Digest books.
I was one of the few students who didn’t groan about doing book reports, because it gave you an excuse to read a book. I would read on the bus ride home, although often I would get all my homework done then too.
During my university and early work years, I hardly read at all, only scientific stuff – it was hard to keep up with the sheer volume of information, between work terms and school. I only picked up reading again as a hobby at around age thirty, and then it was mostly vacation/beach reading. Throughout my working years I read at least a couple of books a month, mostly before bed instead of watching TV, or after I got home if I was working evenings and needed to wind down. (There are entire decades of TV I have missed, although lately I have developed a taste for anything Masterpiece). I am still an avid reader but now that I am retired, it’s more like one per week, and reading has crept into the daytime hours. Reading outside on the swing in the summer is pure bliss. I used to have a hammock where I read but the trees had to be cut down due to ash-bore disease.
My taste in books runs to more mainstream with a few eclectic choices. I tend to haunt the best seller and new release lists, and recommendations from friends with similar tastes. I avoid the Danielle Steele romance genre (romance is okay if it’s part of the story, but not the whole point), sci-fi fantasy, most Canadian prize-winners (too weird), and the majority of Oprah’s book club selections. I don’t like too light and fluffy but I don’t want depressing either. I enjoy fact as well as fiction, lately my choices have ranged from First They Killed My Father, a Cambodian refugee memoir, Quiet, a fascinating must-read for introverts, to The Sleep Solution (see Counting Sheep blog), and I still love a good medical book such as Five Days at Memorial, a tale of evacuating a hospital post Katrina.
I often try to work a book I particularly enjoyed into my blogs if it suits the theme, and sometimes it serves as the inspiration. Lately I have been reading a lot of mystery thrillers and a few months ago I discovered the bookoutlet website, wandered into the travel section and never left, (see April Paris and Italy blogs). I have my favorite authors, Jodi Piccoult, Cathy Kelly, Elin Hildebrand, John Grisham, Mary Higgins Clark, Clare MacIntosh, and often pre-order from the library so I can be number one on the list. The bookoutlet is a discount website (both US and Canadian sites), for remaindered or overstock books with very cheap prices. Recently I ordered eleven books for $102, (free shipping over $45), which came Canada Post. There’s nothing like getting a big box of books in the mail – and isn’t there something wonderful about opening a brand new book and inhaling the scent of newly cut paper.
There have been a few times in my life when I have been too stressed to read – I could not concentrate on the words on the page, but luckily those were few and far between. Reading can be a distraction, a solace, a balm for over-stressed minds, a portal to another universe, when this one is too hard to bear. That is why one of the most often requested items in a refuge camp is a book. It passes the time and takes you away to some other universe, if only for a few quiet hours.
A book journal is a lovely way to keep track of your reads, although I am not always diligent about recording the authors and the dates.
The editor of the New York Times Book Review, Pamela Paul, wrote a book about her book journal (My Life with Bob – my Book of Books – click here for my review). I used to keep my own BOB/book journal but lately I have been recording my reads on my Good-reads profile. It you aren’t familiar with it, Good-reads is like a candy store for bookaholics. To quote L.M. Montgomery, “I am simply a book drunkard,” with no wish to recover.
Recently I found a new book journal with a lovely lavender cover on a remainder table, a bargain at $2.99. A lavender pen would be just the thing for writing in it. There is something about holding a book in your hand…
Quotes of the Day: “I opened up two wonderful gifts this morning – my eyes.”
“Oh for a book, and a cozy nook, Oh for a quiet hour.”
What was your favorite childhood book? What are you reading now? What is the best book you read last year? Please leave a comment if you wish.